2015 NFL Season Preview

Editor In Chief Eric Ting makes his annual predictions for the upcoming NFL Season

2015+NFL+Season+Preview

Eric Ting, Editor In Chief

With the 2015 NFL season kicking off tomorrow night, it’s time for another batch of predictions that probably won’t come true. Last year, my Super Bowl winning team went 7-9 and missed the playoffs, my coach of the year pick got fired, and my most improved player of the year award was well, how do I put this lightly, Trent Richardson. It’s time for some redemption.

NFC North

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: Green Bay Packers (2nd seed NFC Playoffs)

2nd Place: Minnesota Vikings

3rd Place: Chicago Bears

4th Place: Detroit Lions

This is still Aaron Rodgers’ division. Since he entered the league, the veteran quarterback has posted a record of 31-9 in divisional games with a passer rating of 113.4. The loss of wideout Jordy Nelson will hurt, although the Packers have a long history of developing young wideouts, so look for rookie Ty Montgomery or second-year player Jeff Janis to emerge as a solid number three target behind Randall Cobb and DaVante Adams. Although the Packers’ defense isn’t perfect, it is built to play with a lead since it is loaded with pass rushers such as Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers who can get after the quarterback late in the game. The Minnesota Vikings are certainly a team on the rise, and much will depend on the progression of second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The return of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson will give Bridgewater a leg up, although lingering questions at offensive tackle (Phil Loadholt is out for the season with a torn Achilles and Matt Kalil hasn’t lived up to his high draft status) and the secondary (rookie Trae Waynes got torched in the preseason) will likely hold the Vikings back this upcoming season. In Chicago, new head coach John Fox inherits an aging roster with only a few young building blocks in Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte and Kyle Fuller. With that said, new coordinators Vic Fangio (defense) and Adam Gase (offense) were very successful in San Francisco and Denver respectively, and should have the Bears ready for contention soon. The Detroit Lions are poised to take a giant step back following the loss of Ndamukong Suh. His departure will have a giant ripple effect on that defense, as front seven players such as Ezekiel Ansah, DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch will no longer face the luxury of having single teams or being unblocked completely, since Suh commanded a double or even a triple team on every single play. With the pass rush nullified, aging players in the Detroit secondary like Rashean Mathis and James Ihedigbo will be exposed for what they truly are: sluggish defensive backs whose best days are clearly behind them.

 

NFC West:

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: Seattle Seahawks (1st seed NFC Playoffs)

2nd Place: Arizona Cardinals (5th seed NFC Playoffs)

3rd Place: St. Louis Rams (6th seed NFC Playoffs)

4th Place: San Francisco 49ers

The NFC West is unquestionably the best division in football, and this year I am predicting three teams to reach the playoffs. The Seahawks’ acquisition of tight end/wide receiver Jimmy Graham will give Russell Wilson a big time red zone threat, although Seattle gave up All-Pro center Max Unger to complete the deal. The Seahawks’ offensive line was already an issue last season, and will come back to haunt the ’Hawks come January. The Arizona Cardinals overcame a plethora of injuries last season to reach the playoffs and, with Carson Palmer healthy again along with some new players on the offensive side of the ball like Mike Iupati and David Johnson, there’s no reason the Cardinals can’t advance to the NFC Playoffs for a second straight year. The St. Louis Rams are my surprise pick here, as I have them making the playoffs for the first time since 2004. The Rams’ defense is unquestionably elite, led by Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley, Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers who make up the NFL’s best defensive line. Once first round pick Todd Gurley is ready to go, the rushing attack of Gurley, Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham will be too much for NFL defenses to handle. Complement that with competent quarterback play from newly acquired Nick Foles, and the Rams offense will no longer hold this team back in its push for the playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers had one of the worst offseasons in NFL history, losing four starters on offense, seven starters on defense, a head coach who was the first coach in NFL history to take his team to the NFC Championship Game in each of his first three seasons, and both coordinators. Yeah. An offense that held the 49ers back this season is bound to be worse after losing two starters on the offensive line, and the defense will no longer be able to keep the 49ers competitive in games the way it did a year ago. At least the new stadium is nice.

 

NFC South

Projected Order of Finish:

4th Place: New Orleans Saints

4th Place: Atlanta Falcons

4th Place: Carolina Panthers

4th Place: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

No, that was not a typo. All four teams are just that bad, each having glaring weaknesses that will prevent them from winning seven games this year. The Saints’ offense will continue to decline as Drew Brees and Marques Colston age, and Jimmy Graham is now in Seattle. The New Orleans’ defense finished second to last in total defense last season, and were dealt a huge blow when the team released Junior Galette following a domestic violence incident. The Saints will struggle to generate a pass rush with just Cameron Jordan, and will make an already leaky secondary look even worse. The only team worse than the Saints on defense last season was the Atlanta Falcons, who struggled to stop a nosebleed. Rookie Vic Beasley isn’t going to change that overnight, and the Falcons still can’t protect Matt Ryan or run the football. The Carolina Panthers are so decimated at wide receiver right now I’m flying down to Charlotte this weekend for a tryout (kidding, of course). But seriously, Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in training camp, and rookie Devin Funchess remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. The Panthers’ current wide receivers are Ted Ginn Jr. and Philly Brown, and Michael Oher was brought in to protect Cam Newton’s blindside, something the inconsistent offensive lineman has struggled to do since entering the league. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were at the very bottom of the NFL last season, and will remain there unless Jameis Winston quickly adjusts to the pros. It’s impossible to predict which team possesses an edge here; the division winner will likely have a losing record again, leading to more discussion as to whether the NFL should change its playoff seeding rules.

 

NFC East

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: New York Giants (3rd seed NFC Playoffs)

2nd Place: Dallas Cowboys

3rd Place: Philadelphia Eagles

4th Place: Washington Redskins

 

The NFC East is always the most difficult division to predict. No team has won the division in back to back seasons since the Philadelphia Eagles repeated in 2003 and 2004, and the division promises to be unpredictable again this season. That is exactly why I’m picking the Giants to advance. Eli Manning and the Giants’ offense will light up the scoreboard in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s second season, as the return of Victor Cruz to a receiving core that already consists of ODell Beckham and Rueben Randle will give the Giants one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Rookie Ereck Flowers looks like a franchise caliber left tackle, and the Giants’ defense will benefit from the return of Jason Pierre-Paul. The Cowboys will replace departed running back Demarco Murray with a committee of Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. Losing Orlando Scandrick is a huge loss defensively for the ’Boys, and I’m skeptical whether Greg Hardy and Randy Gregory can stabilize their defensive line. Chip Kelly blew up the Philadelphia Eagles’ roster this offseason, getting rid of LeSean McCoy, Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin. I don’t think Sam Bradford is going to play a full season at quarterback for the Eagles, and Jordan Matthews and Riley Cooper are number two and three targets at best. Just when it looked like things couldn’t get any worse for Robert Griffin III, the Redskins announced that Kirk Cousins (77.5 career passer rating) would be their starter for the entire season. Ouch.

 

AFC North:

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: Pittsburgh Steelers (4th seed AFC Playoffs)

2nd Place: Baltimore Ravens

3rd Place: Cincinnati Bengals

4th Place: Cleveland Browns

The Pittsburgh Steelers returned to the postseason last year, and look to build on that success this season. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has promising young weapons in Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, and defensively the Steelers finally have former first-round picks Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier healthy. Pittsburgh’s biggest weakness will be its young and inexperienced secondary, which was on full display last night as Tom Brady and the Patriots torched the Steel Curtain through the air. The Baltimore Ravens are as consistent as they come, although Joe Flacco needs a strong supporting cast in order to produce at an elite level, and final year player Steve Smith and unpolished rookie Breshad Perriman probably won’t give Flacco the support he needs. In Cincinnati, the Bengals are still giving $115 million to a quarterback with an 0-4 career playoff record, despite having more than enough weapons around him and a stingy defense that doesn’t require him to participate in wild shootouts. With that said, however, the Bengals’ defense ranked dead last in the NFL in sacks last season, although they did bring back defensive end Michael Johnson this offseason after Johnson spent a wasted year in Tampa Bay he’d like to forget. The Cleveland Browns will remain in the basement of the AFC North until they find a capable quarterback. Josh McCown’s 2013 season in Chicago is looking more and more like a lucky fluke, and the only lines Johnny Manziel can see over are the lines of cocaine he reportedly snorts in the bathroom at parties when he should be preparing for the season. Say what you want about him checking into rehab and second chances but, even if he gets his act together off the field, he’s given no indication he can be even a quality second-string quarterback given his performance in limited time last season.

 

AFC West:

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: San Diego Chargers (3rd seed AFC Playoffs)

2nd Place: Denver Broncos (6th seed AFC Playoffs)

3rd Place: Kansas City Chiefs

4th Place: Oakland Raiders

This will likely be Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning’s last season, as he got progressively worse as the season wore on last year, ending with notable stinkers against the Bengals in December and then the Colts in January. Manning just doesn’t have the same velocity on his throws anymore, and as a result Denver will not win the AFC West for the first time since 2010. The Chargers overtaking the Broncos is not just a result of Peyton’s decline, but talent San Diego has been stockpiling over the last few seasons. The Chargers will score plenty of points this season, whether Melvin Gordon and Branden Oliver get it done on the ground or Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates provide offense through the air. Defensively, the Chargers have a young, energetic front seven and an opportunistic secondary led by ballhawking safety Eric Weddle and second-year player Jason Verrett. The Broncos will still be a playoff team, as their triad of pass rushers Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Shane Ray will keep them in games defensively, and running back CJ Anderson will take some pressure off of Manning. Come playoff time, however, the Broncos can only hide Manning’s deficiencies for so long. Signing Jeremy Maclin is not going to solve all of the Chiefs’ wide receiver issues because behind Maclin they still have… nothing. The Kansas City defense will continue to be a force to be reckoned with, although Alex Smith with a poor supporting cast isn’t going to get it done. Quell the optimism for the Oakland Raiders right now, please. As the playbook expands for second-year quarterback Derek Carr, an increased number of downfield throws will likely force the real Derek Carr from Fresno State to reemerge: a quarterback with a big arm but poor decision-making that turns the football over more than he should. Carr rarely took shots down the field last year, and most of his numbers came in garbage time after the Raiders already went down 20-30 points come the third quarter. Mark my words, a sophomore slump is coming for Derek Carr. The arrival of Amari Cooper will only tempt Carr to further force the ball when he shouldn’t and, as for Latavius Murray, need I remind everyone he only averaged over four yards per carry once in the four games he started last season. Khalil Mack is a monster, but he can’t be asked to carry a defensive unit whose next best players are the washed up Justin Tuck and Charles Woodson.

 

AFC South:

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: Indianapolis Colts 2nd seed AFC Playoffs

2nd Place: Houston Texans

3rd Place: Jacksonville Jaguars

4th Place: Tennessee Titans

This division is essentially the Indianapolis Colts and everyone else. The Colts have arguably the best receiving core in the NFL, as Andrew Luck can throw to TY Hilton, Andre Johnson, rookie Phillip Dorsett, and Donte Moncrief. The biggest question the Colts have faced the last couple years however, is: Has this team made the necessary moves to get past New England? Andrew Luck is 0-4 in his career against the Patriots, and two of those losses are in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Indianapolis, the answer is no. Trent Cole isn’t going to shore up an anemic pass rush led by the fossil Robert Mathis, and Todd Herremans isn’t going to provide enough help on the offensive line to keep Luck upright. The Colts will be good enough to win the division, but need more young talent primarily in the front seven of their defense if they want to usurp New England. The Houston Texans somehow pulled off a 9-7 record last season with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage and Case Keenum all starting games at quarterback. That was in large part due to defensive lineman/tight end/superhuman freak JJ Watt, who made a strong case for last season’s MVP Award. The Texans’ defense will only get better with Jadeveon Clowney finally returning to action after missing almost his entire rookie season due to injury. Rookie corner Kevin Johnson showed some flashes in the preseason. The Jaguars and Titans are pretty evenly matched, and I only gave a slight edge to the Jaguars because Blake Bortles will have new toys in the form of Julius Thomas and TJ Yeldon to help him transition from a rough rookie year. Marcus Mariota will need some time to adjust to an NFL style offense after playing in a completely foreign system at Oregon.

 

AFC East

Projected Order of Finish:

1st Place: New England Patriots (1st seed NFC Playoffs)

2nd Place: Miami Dolphins (5th seed NFC Playoffs)

3rd Place: Buffalo Bills

4th Place: New York Jets

Tom Brady is a cheater, accept it. I have no idea how his four-game suspension was uplifted, and I also have no idea why the Patriots would feel the need to cheat, since they are unquestionably the best team in the AFC. Indianapolis still isn’t ready to challenge the Patriots, and they will likely advance to yet another Super Bowl. Acquiring one person is all it took to elevate the Dolphins to a playoff-caliber team. Ndamukong Suh is only going to make Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon that much better, and will make an already solid Dolphins’ defense elite. Offensively, Ryan Tannehill has improved every year since he’s entered the league, and will have the Dolphins postseason ready. Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills are a quarterback away from contention, as they have pieces essentially everywhere else. The Jets will be without Geno Smith for the first portion of the season, and will struggle to keep up in a suddenly competitive AFC East.

 

Playoff Predictions:

Wild Card Round: Giants over Rams, Cardinals over sorry NFC South team, Chargers over Broncos, Steelers over Dolphins

Divisional Round: Packers over Giants, Seahawks over Cardinals, Colts over Chargers, Patriots over Steelers

Conference Championships: Packers over Seahawks, Patriots over Colts

Super Bowl: Packers over Patriots

 

Individual Awards:

MVP: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Offensive Player of the Year: Odell Beckham, New York Giants

Defensive Player of the Year: JJ Watt, Houston Texans

Coach of the Year: Jeff Fisher, St. Louis Rams

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Melvin Gordon, San Diego Chargers

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs

Comeback Player of the Year: Navorro Bowman, San Francisco 49ers

Most Improved Player: Eli Manning, New York Giants